Ele­phant ram­ble

Why does a 59-year-old woman want to en­dure knee-deep mud, leeches and snor­ing men to climb a moun­tain?

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ADVENTURE - By PEGGY TAN

WHAT is that trum­pet­ing sound?” I asked Pak Yusuf Aman, our guide. “Pak Be­lalai (Un­cle Trunk),” he replied. The wild ele­phants had been search­ing for food near the base camp to Gu­nung Bintang moun­tain in Kedah.

We hiked up a small hill and some­one shouted, “Ele­phants!”

About 10 me­tres away were two ele­phants. They were tear­ing up branches, beat­ing them against their knees (to clean them) and then stuff­ing them into their mouths.

The big­ger one caught sight of us and hes­i­tated for a while. It started walk­ing to­wards us and we sped off, down the hill. We were thrilled but feared it might charge if we came too close to it.

These trunked crea­tures ex­ist at the foothills of Gu­nung Bintang (1,862m). My friend Alas­tair Bishop and I had fol­lowed a group of Malaysian Na­ture So­ci­ety mem­bers to climb this place. The com­bined area of the Gu­nung Inas and Gu­nung Bintang Hi­jau For­est Re­serves are ex­ten­sive enough to be able to sup­port vi­able pop­u­la­tions of large wild an­i­mals – such as ele­phants. (Edi­tor’s note: this area was the sub­ject of con­tro­versy for il­le­gal log­ging in 2012.)

The base for the climb is Ulu Sedim, which is also a spot for white- wa­ter raft­ing and bird watch­ing. Gu­nung Bintang is part of the Bintang Moun­tain Range which stretches from the Thai-Malaysia bor­der in the north to Taip­ing in the south.

Fe­male power

We had ar­rived in the mid­dle of the night at the vil­lage of Kam­pung Sun­gai Bu­loh to spend one night in an aban­doned house. As I lay on the hard floor and lis­tened to the snor­ing of men around me, I won­dered what had in­spired me to climb Gu­nung Bintang again?

We had to un­dergo train­ing be­fore this trip and I had car­ried a 10kg bag of rice up Pe­nang Hill. Climbers usu­ally carry their own sleep­ing bag, food, clothes and tent to the sum­mit of moun­tains. I used to carry 15kg of stuff in my ruck­sack up a moun­tain, but be­ing older now, I carry a lighter ruck­sack.

“What! You are 59 years old and still want to climb moun­tains!” com­mented some­one.

Well, I have climbed Mount Kin­a­balu and Mount Kil­i­man­jaro (5,896m) be­fore and I have de­cided to climb as long as my old legs can still do it.

People who love climb­ing moun­tains and trekking in the wilder­ness have a cer­tain men­tal and phys­i­cal rigour. Many women in­stinc­tively recog­nise a cer­tain fem­i­nine power in na­ture.

It takes us away from cease­less, mun­dane rou­tines and into our own wilder­ness. Thus, we can at­tain our own sense of suf­fi­ciency and free­dom.

Fiery guards

The first part of the trek was along an old log­ging road and we were un­der the hot blaz­ing sun. The oc­ca­sional bursts of or­ange Gapis flow­ers were a wel­come sight. Bishop took a pho­to­graph of the Greater Cou­gal and Rhinocer­ous Horn­bill.

We rested at Charuk Senyum and reached the first camp­site af­ter an en­ergy-sap­ping hike of four to five hours. The Sungei Ke­rian wa­ter­fall at the camp­site was a sight to be­hold. Tents were pitched up quickly and we bathed in the cool and re­fresh­ing wa­ter­fall.

Din­ner was cooked and we had veg­e­tar­ian soup and rice. There was a heavy down­pour and the del­uge of wa­ter trans­formed the wa­ter­fall into a minia­ture Ni­a­gara.

Part of the ter­rain dur­ing the trek up Gu­nung Bintang was rocky.

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